Business Writer Jon Zemke has already bought six fixer-upper buildings in Detroit and just can't help but spot more he'd buy if he could. In his ongoing series "The Fix" he takes us to the very best money pits the city has to offer.
In last month's second round of the Wayne County Foreclosure Auction, someone paid a cool $5,300 for the Saint Rita apartments in Detroit's North End neighborhood. We don't know much about the Wayne County Tax Foreclosure Auction winner who uses the handle was "lordan17" beyond that he/she bought a lot of other properties at last month's auction. We do know this: whoever bought it made a really smart real-estate play.
This circa-1916 apartment building should be saved. There is a real economic case for it. There is even a solid argument for rehabbing its 26 apartments overlooking the former Northern High School (now the Detroit International Academy for Young Women) where the likes of Aretha Franklin and Smokey Robinson used to go to class. Here are six reasons why it makes sense to save the Saint Rita.
1. Proximity to light rail
The Saint Rita sits less than two blocks from the proposed Holbrook/Hazelwood street stop for the Woodward light rail project. This puts the apartment within walking distance of downtown, Midtown, New Center and even Oakland County if our local leaders can work together long enough to get the proposed regional transit authority off the ground.
2. Small roof
When I buy a house, the first significant project I undertake is securing the roof. The only thing that destroys a building faster than fire is water. Since the Saint Rita is a vertical building, it has a small roof. Small roofs are easier and cheaper to fix or replace.
3. The view
Speaking of roofs, let's talk about roof-top decks. Measuring in at six stories, the Saint Rita is easily one of the tallest buildings in the North End. It provides sweeping views of the Woodward corridor from downtown Detroit's art deco playground to downtown Royal Oak's contemporary skyscrapers. Who doesn't want to look out their window and see the golden tower of the Fisher Building in the distance?
4. Available parking
The Saint Rita is a great urban building (high density built for walkability) but also has the added advantage of having lots of green space around it. Any developer would be able to provide plentiful, adjacent parking for this project, an unfortunate necessary evil in transportation-option starved southeast Michigan.
5. Terra Cotta galore
If the English Renaissance architecture of the Saint Rita is what makes building nerds drool, then the terra cotta detailing on its crown is the frosting on the cake. Detroit has a lot of neighborhood apartment buildings, but not many with this much terra cotta craftsmanship. That white ceramic detailing is worth its weight in architectural gold.
6. No brick calcification
A big problem with tall, historic buildings left to rot is the water causes calcification in the exterior brick. That means water has gotten into the walls and rusted out the metal clips that hold the facade in place, prompting a large amount of facade work. This doesn't seem to be the case with the Saint Rita, which appears structurally sound from its exterior. No visible cracks, white spots in the brick, or falling pieces of cornice are all good signs.
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